To Change Law Firm Culture, Quit Fighting The Current

September 22, 2014

5273Anyone who has spent time near the shore knows that if you are caught in a riptide pulling you out to sea, the last thing you want to do is try to swim directly against the current.  Instead, the recommended course of action is to swim parallel to the shore to eventually reach the beach, progressing slowly but surely toward your goal.  In the legal world, this may be the best way to handle members of your firm who are dead set on using only the most traditional methods of growing their legal business.

It was not so long ago that traditional marketing won the day.  Networking events, luncheons, calls to “friends and family”—it was thought that this was all a firm needed to maintain and grow business.  As we know, those days when firm phones rang off the hook with interested, lucrative prospects are gone.  It is no longer enough to write an article from time-to-time and occasionally request recommendations from long-time clients.  In our current reality, where demand is flat and the only way to grow (and defend current business) is to show value, cross-sell, pitch new clients and relentlessly strengthen the firm brand, these traditional methods are not enough.

Now, who wants to tell that resistant managing partner it is time to make a change?

In most cases, overnight change is close to impossible.  A more gradual approach that ultimately allows you to reach your goal (regardless of how many steps it takes) may be met with less resistance… and may keep your sanity intact.

Here’s one way to begin that progress.  Take a moment to jot down your ultimate goals, and every small change and step it is going to take to get there.  (Sometimes it helps to work backwards.)

Your list may look something like this:

Goal: Attorneys Proactively Communicate and Cross-Sell


  • Create a system for ascertaining strategic targets for cross-selling (a strong competitive intelligence tool can really help here).
  • Begin communication with a periodic newsletter highlighting strategic target client developments.  If your firm is small enough, schedule periodic lunchtime meetings and give attorney teams 90 seconds to highlight (brag about) new matters.
  • If needed, encourage attorney participation through incentives and/or internal marketing.
  • Publicly congratulate communication and cross-selling activities.
  • Create and market strategic client team pages, beginning with enthusiastic pilot group.
  • Host once monthly cross-selling happy hours.
  • End goal: Change firm culture.

Tackle one step at a time.  As is the case here, the first step may be something that can stay within the Marketing and/or Business Development department.  In step two, you may find new challenges but nothing insurmountable.  By the time you are further down your list, the cultural shift has already begun.

When changes are subtle but meaningful, even the most rooted of individuals will be swept along with the changing tide.